US House Republicans Had Their Phones Confiscated to Stop Leaks

“Oh, wow. Really?” John Larson, a Connecticut Democrat, says after WIRED informs him of his rowdy Republican neighbor’s new no-phone rule. “It goes to show you the level of trust in this place, huh?”

It’s not unheard of for lawmakers to be stripped of their devices. US senators had to check their phones and tablets when they sat as the jury for former US president Donald Trump’s two impeachments. They were also only allowed to drink water and milk (yeah, it’s a thing).

Lawmakers also turn over their personal and government-issued devices before heading into classified briefings, like the one House members had Wednesday morning on the Israel-Hamas war. Most of the time, like the rest of us, lawmakers’ fingers are all but one with their screens.

“One of the members said to me—I won’t say who she was—she goes, ‘I need my phone!’” Smith, the New Jersey lawmaker, says with a laugh. “It is a different world. For a while there, all of us went to our grandkids or kids to figure out how to use these things. Now we got it down, and we can’t stop it!”

But stop they did. Many Republicans report these deviceless—and largely staffless—meetings are a welcome change. “I think it does help. Looking over at your colleague, wondering if he’s the one live-streaming it, it foments mistrust,” Thomase Massie, a Republican Kentuckian, tells WIRED. “I think you have more direct, but coarser, conversations if there aren’t witnesses in the room. You’re missing the good stuff!”

Still, Massie is attune to the complaints from the base about secret meetings. “If we don’t have some kind of public vote on the floor, or in conference, where everybody accounts for their own vote, I feel like they can claim this is a stolen election,” Massie says. “If you come out of a secret room, with a secret ballot, and say, ‘This is our choice. Take our word for it,’ I think a lot of people want to know how their congressmen voted, and they want them to prove it, either in a roll call here or on the floor.”

But confiscating rank-and-file Republicans’ devices didn’t heal the internet-fueled internal GOP rift barely hiding underneath the party’s near universal hatred of Joe Biden, love of tax cuts, and fear of Donald Trump. It merely paused the cage match, again. And, as usual, some of McCarthy’s fiercest opponents are now the loudest critics of the clamp down on devices.

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